. The artist is right, circa 2004]
This might be my last album.
Even just writing that sentence crushes my heart beyond anything I can imagine.
As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been absent from DJBooth for a while now. After losing my job four months ago, I decided that I was going to use my time to put all of my focus into my upcoming third album and as the weeks rolled on it became apparent that this project was going to require all of my attention. I made attempts to sit down and write periodically, but I just couldn’t peel myself away from the body of music that was hanging over my head.
This album was by far the hardest to make and took every ounce of energy I had to bring to fruition. It took three long years for me to find the ten songs that I wanted to put out into the world. After my last two albums I knew exactly what this third effort would feel like and how I wanted it to sound. Production wise, Rodney (Hazard) delivered so much great music, I could make another two albums on top of this one just from the stems and ideas that he sent during that time. In recording, I experimented and stretched myself to my furthest limits. Most of the time the experimentations were failures, but when they worked they opened a door to a whole other musical dimension that I didn’t know existed.
At this point I truly feel like I’m sitting on my Dark Side of The Moon. In saying that, I don’t mean that I have a classic album - that’s for the listener to decide - but rather the album that comes as a result of over ten years of polishing and fine tuning my sound. This album is complete. It’s my entire lifetime; everything that I’ve learned, loved and lost all packed into thirty minutes of music. There is no filler on this album. This time around I was careful to remove any songs or interludes that just felt like they were taking up space for the sake of lengthening the experience. I wanted to put together the best piece of music within, and even perhaps outside the realm of my abilities, and right now I feel like I succeeded in doing so.
As I’m writing this, the folder of masters is sitting next to this word document on my laptop. As my gaze drifts from my words towards the folder, I can feel the anxiety build up inside of me. Three years of sweat, tears, agony, pain, love and happiness all summed up within a folder simply titled, “No Weapon Final Masters”.
So what now? Where do we go from here?
Part of me just wants to send this album to Nathan and let it go on DJBooth right away. But unlike in the past, we have some great opportunities ahead of us and we have to see them through. It isn’t just that I want to reap as much financial reward as I can possibly muster out of this album, at this time in my life I have to.
This morning, as I do around the middle of every month, I signed into my account at Mondo Tunes and checked my current royalty status from my previous album, Pyramids In Stereo. While sales have slowed down - understandably since it’s been three years since the album was released and we did not tour to support it - Pyramids In Stereo is still getting a fair amount of play through streaming services and a steady number of downloads through my Bandcamp page. As imperfect as that album was, it still managed to connect with a vast number of people from all walks of life across the world and I couldn’t be more thankful. But as I look at my royalties for the month of June, I can’t help but feel like I’m being short changed.
Eighty-three cents. Eighty-three fucking cents. That’s what Spotify and Google Play have paid me for streams of my album last month. Not even enough to buy a loaf of bread let alone pay my rent or studio bills. At the album’s peak, in the early summer of 2013 shortly after the release of the video for “Forgetting How To Dream,” my streaming royalties never exceeded anything beyond the price of a value meal at McDonald’s.
Until now I was ok with that. It never bothered me that my music didn’t generate a large enough return for me to live off of. I was happy that people liked it and were taking something away from it. I was used to the routine of working a 9-5 job and only being able to afford to go into the studio and do what I love once, maybe twice a week. But now my circumstances have changed and I can no longer release music purely for the sake of creative expression.
Next March, I will be marrying the love of my life. In addition to getting married, we will also be creating a family with her four-year-old son from a previous relationship, a little boy whom I’ve built a strong bond with and couldn’t be happier to be bringing into my home.
In the past, everything and everybody took a backseat to my artistic aspirations. Music was always number one and the world around me was forced to live in the shadows of my dreams. Admittedly, I was a selfish person. I missed far too many important moments to count, instead opting to spend my time in a hot studio in search of a brighter future. I permanently damaged relationships and unintentionally distanced myself from everybody who did not have a hand in helping me to achieve these goals.
But now I’ve found two people who matter more to me than the music. My dreams now live in their shadows and will no longer dictate my direction. As hard as it is to let go of the altruistic vision of myself, the perfect future that I have visualized and pursued relentlessly does not exist without them in it.
So far this album has cost me about $8000 to make, a small number in comparison to the budgets allotted to artists like J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar, but a huge figure for an artist such as myself. Currently I have about $1700 outstanding with my engineer, a bill that will take me months to pay off and will weigh down on me until it’s paid in full. Until I find a new job (right now I’m on employment insurance) I will be splitting financial hairs in order to chip away at the mountain of debt I have accumulated.
I have literally starved myself to make this album and moving forward I will not be able to do it again. If I can’t generate a livable wage out my music then this will be the end of my life as an artist pursuing music as a career. It doesn’t mean that I will stop making music, but finding the time and money to be in the studio will be near impossible if I have to return to the 9-5 work force while maintaining a marriage and building a healthy family. As much as it hurts to say goodbye to music, there is nothing that takes precedent over her and the family we will create together.
I’m writing this today because I want to convey exactly how I’m feeling right now. I can put on my rapper face and pretend like I’m something or somebody that I’m not, but the truth is I’m terrified. This album has to work. Part of me wants to stay positive and believe that a miracle will happen, but realistically speaking I know how this is gonna go. We are going to knock on every door imaginable with this album and nobody is going to help us. We don’t make what’s “hot” and we don’t have any “hits.” I’m going to be on my own again trying to push as far as I can but ultimately I will fall short. It breaks my heart to say it, but this is probably the end of the line for me musically. I appreciate all of the love and support from all of you over the years but unfortunately it just never translated into something financially tangible. This is the reality of releasing albums for free and being raped by streaming services. While I will say that without services like Spotify I probably wouldn’t be as far ahead as I am, the pennies I’ve received in return for years of my blood, sweat and tears feels more like a slap in the face than a pat on the back.
Thanks for reading and listening. Now I’m gonna get back to this album and praying for a miracle. See you soon.
[Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for DJBooth.net. You can read/download his free eBook, "This Is My Rifle" and listen/download his most recent album, "Pyramids in Stereo." You can also contact him here and here.]